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MEEKER I New Meeker Fire Chief Marshall Cook is the first full-time chief in the history of the Meeker Fire Department and brings with him 30 years of training, experience and vision.
Born and raised in Lamar, Colo., Cook invested 30 years in that fire department. Starting in 1985 as a volunteer fireman, he went full time in 1988, made captain in 1994, was named deputy chief in 1999, and became department chief in 2007.
His background also includes emergency manager, deputy county coroner and an adjunct instructor at a community college teaching EMS programs. Two of his personal goals were also to earn his bachelor’s degree in fire science, as well as national accreditation as a fire officer.
Cook was actually a finalist for the chief’s job in Louisville, Colo., a city of 25,000 with projected growth of 30 percent in the next five years. But in his words, “My wife and I are small town people. Although that is a modern, progressive department, it’s bigger than what we wanted to be in, so I turned down my final interview.”
At the same time he made that decision, Cook saw the job opening in Meeker advertised on the Internet.
“We knew it was a smaller department in call volume than we were used to, but it was the best fit,” he said. Lamar has about 1,200 calls per year, while Meeker has about a quarter of that number.
For the first time in the town’s history, the Meeker Fire Board decided to hire a full-time fire chief. Prior to this, there was a volunteer fire chief and a paid ambulance director, but both positions have now been combined into one paid position.
“That’s a good idea,” Cook said. “Steve Allen did a great job as a part time chief, but in today’s post-9/11 world, there’s so many standards and reports that the feds and the state want, that it has become more and more challenging for a volunteer fire chief to accomplish.”
Cook added that he was amazed at how busy the Meeker department actually is.
This includes not only call volume, but also various projects and documentation, he said.
Cook’s vision for the department flows from all this.
“We know there needs to be some updating of standard operating procedures,” he said. “We know there are opportunities out there for more training in the realms of fire, EMS and even hazardous materials.
“When we see all the trucks on Highway 13 with hazmat placards on them, that’s always a concern,” he said. “I feel my job is to provide the resources that our staff needs to do the job.”
All this also flows from Cook’s view of government.
At his interview, in fact, he told the board, “Government exists for one reason and one reason only, in my mind: to serve its citizens. The fire distinct is a form of government, so everything we do here should be focused on if we are providing the best for our community.
“Are we trained to the highest level we can be; do we have the best equipment?” he asked. “Are our response times adequate, or can we do it better? My answer to that is: we can do it better.”
Cook was very quick to add here that in no way is the Meeker department doing a bad job now.
“We have a great group here, and I was totally thrilled when I saw the number of volunteers (which is currently 40) and the level of commitment they have.” he said. “But I do believe it can always be done better.”
Cook was especially explicit about the extremely high level of volunteerism in Meeker. In addition to being fully staffed right now, there are four applications on a waiting list.
“Typically, the common theme among small communities is the need to beg for volunteers,” he said. “The economy and lifestyle make it difficult for people to volunteer (extra time). But Meeker is rich with volunteers, not just on the fire and ambulance side, but other things in the community.”
Cook went on to illustrate this with something as basic as the monthly ambulance schedule. The desire is to have four people on call per shift.
“We can get by pretty well with three, but if we get down to two for a particular day, I get a little nervous,” he said. “Dispatch will page that (need) out to see if anyone else can assist, and almost always someone will respond that they can fill in even though they didn’t originally sign up for that day.”
When asked by the board if he realized just how small Meeker is and whether it would be sufficiently challenging, Cook said, “Let me tell you something. There are more people in Lamar, but when you get right down to it, the only things Lamar has that Meeker doesn’t are a bowling alley, a movie theater and a Walmart.”
One such challenge is to eventually make Meeker a qualified training group. Fire departments cannot do this without the proper credentials. Until then, initial courses for EMTs, by state rules, must be done either through community colleges or hospitals.
When asked if there have been any situations where he didn’t have what was really needed to do the job properly, Cook reiterated, “No, for a community this size, this department is very well equipped. I came from a department with four times the call volume but it had to operate on a shoestring budget. Fortunately, this department has the funding sources to do good things.”
Cook also commented that there have been plans for a few years to do some needed renovation of the fire station. The fire board contracted with F&D International last year to start putting together some plans to that end.
F&D is an architectural/engineering/project management firm based in Boulder. They have done several large projects throughout Colorado, “so they certainly appear to have the qualifications to do this project,” Cook said.
They will return at the July board meeting to detail those plans.
Current plans call for the building across the alley from the station—the old bowstrings shop that was purchased two years ago and is currently used for equipment and vehicle storage—to be renovated first. The three existing bays will remain, but the front of the building will be demolished and replaced with a new two-story structure. Current offices will then be moved into that building and improvements made to the existing station.
Fire Board Chairman Wade Bradfield said the money has already been set aside for this $1.2 million project so there will be no additional burden on taxpayers.
“We will also get all local people to do the work,” he said. “We won’t do it all in one huge project. We will do it in phases over the next two or three years.”
Not only is Chief Cook committed to his job, but also to the Meeker community.
“Since the board invested in me, we are investing ourselves in this community as well,” he said.
He and his wife, Carrie, are buying a home here, and she is the new surgical manager at the Pioneers Medical Center and an EMT nurse on the ambulance.
His vision also includes promoting the Meeker department via Facebook, helping at the 9News Health Fair, regular reporting in the Herald Times, and anything else that keeps the department before the community.
One final question for the chief was just for fun. He was asked if he had ever seen any movie that gave an accurate depiction of a firefighter?
“Absolutely not,” he said. “‘Backdraft,’ for example, was good entertainment, and even had a few things right, but it was not a training video.”